FONTANA, Calif. – Matt Kenseth’s team has found some much-needed magic.
After going through a winless and disappointing 2008, the former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is 2-0 in 2009, adding a victory in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 to his win the previous week in the Daytona 500.
“Just great team, great crew, great, great engines,” Kenseth bubbled in the aftermath of his 18th career victory. “You just need everything to go right, really to win these races.”
At Daytona, Kenseth took the lead moments before rain, which eventually cut the race short, began to fall.
Sunday’s race was considerably more dramatic, with Kenseth fending off a determined challenge from four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon to win for the third time on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval.
Kenseth took the lead from Gordon in the pits under caution with 38 laps to go in the 250-lap race and stayed ahead, pulling away over the last 20 laps. But it took a while for the winner to shake Gordon, who went also went winless last year and is desperate to get back to Victory Lane.
“I honestly thought that we were going to be too loose at the end and he was going to catch us,” Kenseth said. “Especially (when) I couldn’t get away from him that time he ran me down and got right on my bumper (on lap 231).”
But get away he did, beating Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the finish line by 1.464 seconds – most of the front straightaway.
It is the first time a Cup driver has won the first two races of the season since Gordon did it in 1997 on the way to the second of his four championships.
Kyle Busch, who made NASCAR history by winning both the truck and Nationwide races on Saturday, came up short of weekend sweep by finishing third.
Greg Biffle was a contender throughout the race, but fell to 12th after being penalized for running over his own air hose on a pit stop on lap 209. He charged all the way to fourth.
Ron Capps raced to his second consecutive Funny Car victory of the season at the Lucas Oil Slick Mist NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz.
Capps took a single pass to claim his 27th career victory after final round opponent Mike Neff’s Ford Mustang broke on the burnout. Capps powered his Dodge Charger to 4.048 seconds at 306.81 mph to win for the second time at the Phoenix track.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) also won their categories.